The first thing that grabbed our attention as we entered the park was the large crowd. The place was incredibly packed out for a Magfest Thursday. Most of the reserved sites in the campground seemed already to be occupied, and as we approached our regularly sparsely populated, primitive camping area, it was crowded with tents. I never saw this many peeps at a Magfest, even on a Saturday. We pushed just a little further beyond before setting up Gnometown out in the grassy field, amongst the live oaks, Spanish moss, and fire ants. Oh yeah, we were ready for some music.
|Home sweet Gnometown.|
By the time we got down to the Amphitheater stage, it was time for the legendary Col. Bruce Hampton
and Friends to "Hampmotize" the assembled crowd. The Colonel's band set the mood for the weekend, rocking and rolling, with class and style. They finished with an incredible cover of Cream's, I'm So Glad. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the Festivarian chorus singing along with the Colonel, "I"m so glad, I'm so glad, I'm so glad, glad, glad..." We were glad, indeed.
Next up was the outlaw bluegrass trio, Grandpa's Cough Medicine from the Jacksonville area. We have seen them before at Suwannee and they just continue to deliver the medicine. Brett Bass, guitar picker extraordinaire, is a perfect pitchman for their songs of murder, deceit, and corruption. They are lots of fun and well worth seeking out if they play around your town.
To wrap up the night, we were treated to the Gnometown favorite, Railroad Earth. I was rather surprised that I was approached by several folks (I was wearing a RRE shirt) who had never heard them and wanted to know about them. One guy asked me the type of music they played, and when I replied, "JamGrass" he said, "I like to smoke grass and I like to jam, so I will probably like them." I'm thinking he probably did like them.
Anyway, when RRE took the stage, they did effectively blow the crowd away with their absurdly exceptional musicianship and Todd Sheaffer's wonderfully lyrical songwriting and haunting vocals. It continues to amaze me how they continue to deliver such incredible music. I've never seen a "tired" show or any evidence of the band having a "bad day". Noteworthy of this show, RRE did a spot-on cover of The Band's Acadian Driftwood (I hadn't heard them do that one for a while), and they performed a somewhat short but perfectly jammy and delectable, Head. I actually believe, deep down in my heart that this time, during the heated battle between Tim Carbone on fiddle and John Skehan on mandolin (which drives the song, Head), that John kicked Tim's ass. I've seen this war fought dozens of times, usually with mixed results. This particular time there is no question in my mind who the victor was. Wow!
It was quiet back at Gnometown and I slept really good. One advantage of being in the back fields at Suwannee is that it is mostly far removed from the drum circle, all night jams, partying, and drunken yahoo-ing, which is sometimes difficult to escape at music festivals. Believe me, at my age, I value my sleep more than listening to a blow by blow live time account of someone "pushing the fool button".
We were camped in a large area populated by families with lots of young kids so things were quiet at night, and the kids were wide open during the day. Lots of football, soccer, Frisbee, bike riding, sword fighting, tag, etc. It was a very entertaining scene to watch over morning coffee.
We discovered that, despite our best effort to avoid the fire ants, we must have been on top of some. The little buggers were crawling up on the pop-up and causing trouble, so I had to purchase some deterrent from the camp store. Problem solved.
|Meadow stage during Keller and Traveling McCourys.|
Who cares whether Kris rang our bell or not, because John Prine was up next at the Meadow stage. Now, this was the show of the weekend. Prine manifested as the reincarnation of Buddha on stage. He was funny, he was sweet, he was insightful, he was all knowing, and he transcended space and time. He was the intuitive songwriter who wrote all those tender songs which revealed his complete understanding of the human condition. We knew all the words to all his songs. During Sam Stone, you could hear a pin drop. I've never witnessed that phenomenon in such a large festival crowd before. During Hello In There, an older woman who was sitting by me, turned and whispered in my ear, "That song is just pitiful, just pitiful!" I had to agree. Black Betty started crying at Angel From Montgomery and wept through the rest of the show. It was truly a transcendental experience and one of those live music moments that I live for. Kris Kristofferson joined Prine on stage for an encore of Paradise.
After Prine, we walked back over to the amphitheater to listen to Stephen Marley. As a five time Grammy winner and son of Bob Marley, Stephen is no slouch. We listened to some sweet, sweet, reggae before heading back to Gnometown for some quality dream time.
Saturday was spent with lots of great music. Tornado Rider started us off with their regular insane intensity and Rashad Eggleston's nonsensical verbal ramblings and hard rocking cello punk band. Next, we dug on the Heavy Pets trancey reggae fusion.
Like almost everyone else at Magfest, we were really excited to see The Duhks again. Leonard, Tania Elizabeth, and company brought the love back to Suwannee with them and it was certainly palpable in the crowd.
Mavis Staples rocks, what can I say? I loved her doing The Weight and praising the late, great Levon Helm. Great stuff, her powerful stage presence took my breath away!
|Mavis Staples Band|
Donna The Buffalo really brought their "A" game with them. You know, I really love them, and I can't say enough about just how ass-kicking this current configuration of the band is. Dave McCracken, Kyle Sparks, and Mark Raudabaugh, without a doubt, kick up the energy and vibe of the band bringing Jeb and Tara with them. Awesome stuff. My only complaint is that they didn't play all four days! Some sweet boogie time, for sure!
|Jeb, Kyle, Mark.|
Willie Nelson and Family were up next and were as great as ever. I saw them for the first time 33 years ago in Austin, and I couldn't tell that Willie has slowed up any. Actually, few things in this old world can trump listening to Willie sing Always On My Mind on a warm fall evening with your family and friends. The fact the Willie is 80 years old and singing, "Roll me up and smoke me when I die" says it all. This man is truly an American icon. BTW, some lucky fan in the meadow got to go home with Willie's black cowboy hat that he tossed into the crowd during his performance. Just think what a family heirloom that hat is destined to become! Oh yeah, our very own Jim Lauderdale along with Willie's daughter, Amy, came out on stage for the finale.
The Drive By Truckers finished our night out for us. Loud, hard rocking, fun. Hey, it was the Truckers!
Unfortunately, we had to pack up Gnometown on Sunday to head back home to North Cackalacky. So we missed all the great Donna The Buffalo Sunday jams. I hope the tapers got it all recorded and are loading it up to archive, so we can hear what we missed.
Over all, it was a nice weekend of music. We missed lots of music, but you can only see so much. What we did see was spectacular!
The weather was perfect, if not a little hot. Highs were in the 80's, lows in the 60's. No rain, just a light sprinkle for about 5 minutes.
I don't know what they were thinking with the the scheduling of the Porch Stage and the Amphitheater. Many times they had music going on at the same time on these two close-proximity stages. The sound would often bleed through to the other stage while we were trying to enjoy the band in front of us. Bummer.
This festival had a much larger crowd than the Magfests of the past. We actually prefer smaller fests, the big crowds tend to make it too difficult to get as close to the music as we like to be. We talked on the way home about the possibility of just sticking with Springfest in the spring and Shakori Hills in the fall for next year. We will see what the lineup looks like.